'I can't wait': Lesko familiar pick for Padres

Prep RHP and No. 15 overall selection gets advice from HOF closer Trevor Hoffman

July 18th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Dylan Lesko boasts an exceptional changeup -- the best in the MLB Draft, according to MLB Pipeline. So it’s fitting that he’s headed to the team where one of the best changeup specialists in Major League history holds sway.

Lesko, selected No. 15 overall by the Padres in the first round of the 2022 Draft on Sunday, has in fact already compared notes with Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. The right-hander got a chance to meet Hoffman when the nation’s top high school players gathered at Petco Park last August for the Perfect Game All-American Classic showcase.

“I talked to him a little bit,” Lesko said during a Zoom session with reporters. “Getting to go back to that atmosphere and be with him and the city, and the stadium, I’m excited for it. I can’t wait.”

San Diego went all pitching on Day 1. The club selected left-hander Robby Snelling of McQueen High School in Reno, Nev., at No. 39 overall, the final pick of Competitive Balance Round A, along with University of Iowa right-hander Adam Mazur, who was the No. 53 overall pick, in the second round.

Hoffman, the longtime Padres closer who works with pitching prospects as part of his current duties with the club, will have to wait a while to see Lesko’s changeup in game action again.

That’s because the 18-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow back in April, putting a premature end to a dominant senior season at Buford (Ga.) High School.

But it speaks to Lesko’s talent and track record that the injury didn’t prevent him from remaining a top-15 Draft prospect, per MLB Pipeline. It also doesn’t hurt that there is a history of highly drafted pitchers overcoming Tommy John surgery that took place either before or shortly after their entry to pro ball, with Lucas Giolito and Walker Buehler being two recent examples.

“I feel great,” Lesko said. “I don’t think there are going to be any complications.”

Before Lesko’s elbow problems, he had established himself as an elite pitching prospect. As a high school junior in 2021, the 6-foot-2 righty went 11-0 with a 0.35 ERA and 112 strikeouts over 60 innings, becoming the first junior to ever capture Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year honors.

While it’s hardly unusual for top prep pitchers to put up mind-boggling numbers at that level, Lesko backed up his with an advanced array of tools and a healthy dose of polish. His repertoire includes a plus fastball that reached 97 mph this spring, a high-spin curveball with room for development, above-average control, a repeatable delivery and a mature approach to pitching.

But the headline for Lesko is his changeup, with low-80s velocity, horizontal run and sink.

“It looks like a fastball out of the hand,” Padres amateur scouting director Chris Kemp said. “It’s got that pull-back, that fade. I just gives the illusion to the hitters that it’s a fastball. They commit early, and they have a hard time stopping on it.”

Hoffman, a converted shortstop, developed his changeup at the Major League level and rode it to Cooperstown. Lesko already has a head start on perfecting the pitch.

“I was a freshman in high school when I first started throwing it,” Lesko said. “One of my travel coaches told me to try it with a circle changeup grip. I started playing with it, and it felt really comfortable right off the bat. It’s become, basically, my best weapon, my go-to.”

Now the question is if and when Lesko will get to test the pitch in a professional setting, as he has a commitment to Vanderbilt University to fall back on if he doesn’t sign.

The injury itself should not be an issue in the negotiations.

For one, Lesko went to Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a specialist who has performed the procedure on some of the top pitchers in the spot. Also, San Diego is fully aware of the injury. Lesko played on the scout team circuit for a team associated with the Padres, had an in-home meeting with Kemp and Padres scouts in December, and he met president of baseball operations A.J. Preller at an event after the surgery.

If anything, the injury allowed the Padres to snare Lesko, who rated much higher than No. 15 on Draft projections early this year.

“I thought he was going to go before us, to be honest,” Kemp said. “He’s that talented.”

With months of rehab ahead, Lesko isn’t merely riding that talent. He has added new determination to overcome the adversity.

“It was definitely devastating,” Lesko said of the injury, “being senior year, the last time I’d be on a high school field with my best friends. Given the future, the college or pro route, I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“For me, it was just turning it into a positive … to make the most of it and make sure it didn’t happen for nothing. Come back stronger.”